Our museum is temporarily closed to support the effort to contain the spread of COVID-19. Read a message from our director, and check our website and social media for updates.

5 Dollars, United States, 1849

5 Dollars, United States, 1849

<< >>
Usage conditions apply
This five dollar coin was produced by the Massachusetts and California Company around 1849. James Marshall’s 1848 discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill kicked off the California gold rush and changed the wealth and reach of the nation as gold was suddenly in plentiful supply and the population was shifting westward. As the government lagged behind the gold rush to mint its own coins, private businesses filled the void in the market. The Massachusetts and California Company operated from 1849 until 1854, most likely bringing gold back to Northampton, Massachusetts, to be minted. Contemporary reports note that the five dollar piece was debased with copper, indicative of coins minted in the east. On the obverse, or front, of the coin are arms holding a spear; a bear and a stag stand on either side of the shield showing a vaquero throwing a lasso. A scroll with “ALTA” appears below the arms. On the reverse is a laurel wreath tied with bow with twenty stars arrayed around. The coin reads “5 Dollars” in the center. The rim reads “MASSACHUSETTS & CALIFORNIA CO 1849.”
Object Name
date made
Massachusetts and California Co.
place made
United States: California
place of issue
United States: California
Physical Description
gold (overall metal)
0 (overall die axis)
0 (overall die axis measurement)
struck (overall production method)
overall:.2 cm x 2.2 cm; 3/32 in x 7/8 in
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Estate of Josiah K. Lilly
See more items in
Work and Industry: National Numismatic Collection
Josiah K. Lilly Jr. Collection
American Enterprise
Coins, Currency and Medals
American Enterprise
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History
Nominate this object for photography.   

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.


Add a comment about this object